Snake-conjuring Chinese 'healer' held for kidnapping and murder

BEIJING (AFP) - A celebrity Chinese "qigong master" who claimed to conjure snakes from thin air and cure the sick has been held by police on suspicion of kidnapping and murder, reports said on Friday.

Wang Lin, who gained fame and political admirers through his performance of qigong, a martial art, was detained on Thursday over the death of businessman Zou Yong, the official Xinhua news agency and other reports said.

It is the latest drama in the colourful life of a man who previously threatened a reporter with death for questioning his powers - which include retrieving an incinerated banknote intact from an orange.

He gained fame in China two years ago, when images of his feats were posted online, along with pictures of him posing with celebrities.

The self-proclaimed healer was reportedly visited by Jack Ma, the founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, for reasons unknown.

Pictures also circulated on Chinese social media of Wang with former railways minister Liu Zhijun - who was convicted of corruption and given a suspended death sentence - martial arts star Jet Li, and various senior officials.

Reports described Zou as a "disciple" of Wang's. Both are from the central province of Jiangxi, where Zou was also a local legislator in Jiangxi.

The businessman previously said he had given Wang five million yuan ( S$1.09 million), "several sports cars and 20 kilograms of gold" to teach him tai chi, the Global Times said, citing reports.

But Zou turned against his teacher in 2012 after he made persistent requests for money, the newspaper said.

"Since then, Zou had been revealing Wang's alleged fraudulent behaviour to media and authorities. Wang had denied Zou's allegations," it added.

Zou was kidnapped and killed last week, Xinhua said, adding that police in Jiangxi detained two suspects on Tuesday night. Wang and another suspect were held on Thursday.

The Beijing News quoted unnamed sources saying that Zou's body was chopped up and thrown into a lake.

The same newspaper ran an interview with Wang in 2013 which questioned his self-proclaimed powers.

The newspaper suggested he had mastered sleight of hand rather than the supernatural, infuriating Wang so much that he telephoned the author to curse her.

"I am telling you, you will die miserably, and your family will follow," the Beijing News quoted him as saying in a follow-up article.

Wang owns a five-storey villa in Jiangxi and keeps a Rolls-Royce and three Hummers, the Beijing News report said.

Despite three decades of rapid modernisation in China, many people - particularly the elderly and residents of poorer rural provinces such as Jiangxi - still cling to traditional beliefs and superstitions.

Wang has been living in Hong Kong as a permanent resident in recent years, the Global Times said on Friday.